My time as a nanny in Italy was a truly remarkable experience and I have summed up my five favourite things about this summer.
1) Kate. A perfect travel partner, Kate and I spent a large chunk of time together including six non-stop days in Greece and eight days in Milan and Barcelona. We complimented each other, with her expert map skills and ability to converse in almost any language and my talent of remembering landmarks in order to get ourselves home in Barcelona at 5 am. Her laid-back attitude matched perfectly with my tendency to worry and overanalyze situations. Furthermore, we share the common passion of food, with almost every conversation beginning and ending with a discussion on food; the foods we missed (peanut butter, salmon, oatmeal), the foods we ate that day (pasta, pasta, pasta…), the foods we hated (pasta) and our search for food including a hunt for banana chocolate chip bread in Barcelona and the best Mexican restaurant ever complete with delectable chocolate cake, burritos and guacamole.
2) Melanzana (eggplant) and zucchini. My two new favourite Italian foods. Having abandoned pasta and pizza indefinitely or at least for the time being. I will take the eggplant and zucchini recipes back with me to Canada. My favourite was the grilled eggplant, this consisted of slices of eggplant grilled in oil and egg. Yum!
3) Bambini (Children). They drove me crazy from making fun of my accent to not listening when I asked them to turn off the television for the hundredth time to throwing blow-out temper tantrums. However, despite all of the challenges I could not help but feel sad about leaving them and remembering the good times we had. From playing at the beach, or when they learned a new English word or adopting my new Italian name courtesy of the youngest: Aleckey.
4) My job. Although at times I complained about working too many hours or being paid very little, overall the job as a nanny was amazing. From spending my days on the beach with the kids to boating in Greece to climbing mountains, everyday was like a dream to wake up and realize I was in Italy and this was my job.
5) Close proximity. One of the highlights of my summer was the trip to Barcelona and Milan. Through easyjet Kate and I inexpensively explored two other incredible cities.
Although I cannot list five things I disliked about Italy and my time as a nanny here there were two things that could have slightly improved my experience.
1) The lack of diversity. This particularly applies to the food and the grocery stores. Regardless of the town or house we visited in and around Lecce, the grocery stores consistently had pasta, yogurt, milk, cereal, bread, biscotti, fruits (mainly peaches, grapes, apples and melon), vegetables (carrots, lettuce and tomatoes), olives, meat and cheeses (strictly Italian cheeses from the region although sometimes you may encounter a Greek cheese) and nothing else. The food served in the homes was always the same. Currently, I hope never to eat pasta, bread or biscotti ever again.
2) Disorganization. As an organized person and perhaps a tad obsessive about organization, the Italians lack of drove me crazy. From not knowing when I was going to work to forgetting to be paid to the bus schedule to their parking skills, disorganization was everywhere.
Greece consisted of swimming six hours a day, watching the glittering sea from the comfort of a motor boat and eating a plethora of Greek delicacies including stuffed vine leaves, moussaka (an eggplant based dish similar to lasagna), saganaki (fried cheese) and Kate’s favourite—meatballs. Although at times the restaurant service was lacking in politeness, including one waiter who yelped at us at a restaurant, “What do you want” and another whom could not understand the menu as he did not speak Greek or English despite being in Greece. Our vacation with the families came to an end after only six days as Kate and I were embarking on our kid-free holiday to Milan and Barcelona. Our families were remaining in Greece for several more days therefore they booked us on the ferry from a small town outside of Leftkas, Greece to Bari, Italy (the city where we were flying out of).
Our bus from Leftkas was uneventful, minus Kate realizing she forget her flats and would therefore have to go out in Milan in her worn and torn sandals that have seen better days. After the swift bus journey we quickly made friends with an Italian woman traveling alone. We found the ferry port easily but we soon found out our ferry port was five kilometres away. We grudgingly made our way through the hot sun to the ferry port where gypsies were camped out with all of their belongings including their mattress. After checking-in, Kate, Annalisa (the Italian woman) and I found a restaurant where we indulged in Greek salads and coffee.
Annalisa left at seven-thirty and Kate and I continued to wait for our midnight ferry, by wandering around the small town, with the copious amounts of restaurants and grocery stores and nothing else. We are convinced all they do is eat in this town. At eleven we decided to wait outside of the ferry building as it stuck like urine and bad food primarily due to the people living in the edifice and the disgusting bathrooms. While we waited outside, an American guy from New Jersey (that’s next to New York, he informed us, a fact we are both well aware of thank you very much). He was traveling with his two kids. However, this is when our anxiety began and as he leaned in closely in and told us horrific stories of the ferry. We were booked on the deck of the ferry—the cheapest seats possible of fifty-two Euros. The American guy emphasised as we were two young females traveling together we were to expect being harassed by haggard, dishonest men who would steal our valuable possessions. Furthermore, he explained we should not sleep as people would grab our passports, money, camera, even our entire backpack. Our relaxed attitude immediately was replaced by panic and fear. I imagined a dark, dank ferry littered with drug addicts, and scary pale gaunt men sneering at us. Kate decided we should check to see how much a cabin was therefore we could sleep in peace as the cabins have locks. We decided our safety did not have a price, until the woman informed us of the two hundred euro price tag attached to upgrading to a cabin. Apparently, our safety does have a price limit as we sorely shook our heads no and waited on the ferry dock.
Fuelled by over exhaustion, anxiety, paranoia and plain silliness Kate and I devised a game plan. Firstly, we agreed that if there was any time to be discriminatory now was the time. We stayed away from anyone looking remotely sketchy including two innocent guy backpackers whom in the night seemed like potential thieves but in the morning were clearly just two twenty something students backpacking through Europe. We stuck near clean-cut looking couples and families with small children. Giggling nervously we shot paranoid looks to strangers and dreamed of being in Milan already.
We were among the first twenty people to arrive on the ferry, everyone jostling while we hugged our backpacks particularly our passports protectively to our chests and prayed nothing got stolen. Once inside the ferry we were directed outside to the deck where people had set up camp with their sleeping bags, blow-up mattresses, dogs and other personal belongings. We looked for a way back inside and finally found a door. Kate was held up by a girl asking where we were supposed to sleep, an excellent question while I hurriedly grabbed a cushy couch, and thankfully much to my surprise the ferry was clean, well-lit and everyone was either sleeping or preparing to sleep. However, with the American man`s words stuck in our heads we agreed Kate would sleep first and then I would wake her in two hours. At four am, my body crashed and the words in my book blurred together. At that moment Kate woke up and we decided to both sleep and slept with our bags securely wrapped around our arms.
After 3 restless hours of sleep we awoke at seven am to be informed our ferry was delayed until ten-thirty. We looked at each other our optimism of surviving the ferry slipping away as our flight was at twelve-twenty and the airport was forty-five minutes from the ferry dock. Thankfully, Greece is an hour ahead of Italy and we docked in Bari at nine-thirty am and our panic lessened slightly. However, disembarking from the ferry proved to be a challenge. The man at the door of the entrance that led to the ten minute walk through the hallways of the ferry in order to get off was only allowing the truck drivers through. However, after a seven year old boy and a young woman in her early twenties passed through claiming they were truck drivers, I began getting agitated, we had a flight to catch. Thankfully, Kate remained calm and steadily told the man we had a flight to catch at 11:30 (which is the time we had to be at the airport by). After several minutes of patiently waiting the man motioned us to follow him and he led us through the hallways and down the escalator just in time to see the ferry dock being lowered. We waited a few minutes until the men working gave us the signal and like a scene from a movie with the sun shining brightly we ran giggling like crazed lunatics off the ferry.
take them. the guides led us through the most hilarious bike ride ever in barcelona and then dropped us off to drink sangria at the beach, perhaps so that they could laugh at us as we tried to mount the bikes drunkenly when it was time to go. we also took their cooking course the day after and made paella. here’s quality instructions for you:
Paella pan Shallower than a frying pan, with a handle on each side. Should have a dimpled base, like the surface of a golf ball, to help the liquid trickle beneath the rice and steam it from below. Garcima s.l. is the brand favoured by Spaniards.
Bomba rice The tiny bomba rice crop produced by the village of Calasparra in south-eastern Spain is the one to buy. Irrigated via a system installed by the Romans, it ensures a continuous flow of fresh mountain water to the paddies.
Saffron Each yolky strand of saffron is the stigma of a crocus that has been harvested by hand, hence the hefty prices. The grade (determined by how well it stains) is more important than the producer. Look for “coupe”, the highest grade, or “mancha”, the next best.
Piquillo peppers These are indigenous to Spain, with an intense, smoky flavour. Look for DOP (Denominación de Origen Protegida) piquillos; those from Navarrico are particularly good.
Chorizo Essentially a pork sausage that contains paprika. The best for paella is a cooking chorizo. Brindisa (www.brindisa.com) has a decent one, or, if you can find it, try the chorizo produced by Embutidos Alejandro in Spain.
For a paella that will feed about six people, start by heating around two tablespoons of good (but not too expensive) virgin olive oil per person in a paella pan. Chop some chorizo and fry it in the oil until it’s browned, then remove it and allow smallish pieces of seasoned chicken, or rabbit legs, to fry in the chorizo-flavoured oil until golden—you’re looking for a total weight of meat hovering around the 1kg mark. Then add about half that weight in sliced green beans, shelled peas or a mixture of both, and tip in some roughly chopped, skinned tomatoes together with a small handful of crushed and chopped garlic cloves. This should simmer quietly for about 25 minutes, until the chicken or rabbit is almost cooked through.
At this point, pour in a litre and a half of hot chicken stock or water, together with a scattering of saffron stamens steeped in a couple of generous glugs of warmed sherry. Bring everything up to a healthy simmer and then thoroughly stir in about 500g of rice. Do not stir again, but leave to cook quietly for 20 minutes, then scatter the surface with mussels or small clams and cover with a loose, large lid or foil. Turn the heat down very low for five minutes, to allow the mussels or clams to steam open. Once they’re gaping, turn off the heat and cover with a tea towel; this helps the final swelling of the rice and will also absorb excess steam. Serve immediately, scraping the pan as you go to lift off those delicious clusters of scorched rice. Far from being the bottom of the barrel, they are the best bit.
August 23rd. 3 more days to go.
We leave for Greece tomorrow with the families and then Kate and I are escaping to Milan and Barcelona! Ciao, adios, antio sas!
On a glorious day off Kate and I headed into Castro a town adjacent to Vignacastrisi where Kate’s family have their bed and breakfast. We decided to bike however I had to take the bus back to Santa Cesarea from Castro so we took one bike and took turns running beside the bike done the steep hill. At one point Kate sat on the back of the bike but it wobbled incessantly and we eventually gave up on that idea.
Our perfect day consisted of fried shrimp and calamari (as any food but pasta is a welcome change) and the usual staple of gelato (ice cream). We walked around the small marina town exploring every nook and delighted in our freedom from the kids for an afternoon. Unfortunately my stress-free day was about to take a turn for the worse.
Kate and I had figured out the bus schedule and stop beforehand for my peace of mind and I was going to take the 6:19 bus back to Santa Cesarea so I could be back in time for my nanny duties to resume at 7. The public transportation in Italy is notoriously late and in these small towns has the tendency to be unreliable. The bus arrived only ten minutes late however a crowd of kids were gathered at the bus stop, one of the kids stopped and talked to the bus driver for a brief moment before the bus sped off. Confused, my heart sank momentarily but no one had gotten on the bus and another bus quickly appeared. Light-hearted, I filed on the bus with the pushy kids and asked the bus driver confidently, “Questo bus per Santa Cesarea” (please note my Italian is not prefect). The driver dismissed me with a quick, “Non va a Santa Cesarea.” My heart plummeted and bewildered I looked to the other people getting on the bus for answers. With a smirk and a giggle several of the people all ages twelve to early twenties exclaimed in a mix of Italian and English, “Primo (first) bus for Santa Cesarea, first…” Their laughter and nonchalance overwhelmed me as I panicked and realized I was stranded in Castro.
Tears sprang into my eyes and my head screamed with frustration, as the next bus to Santa Cesarea was not until 7:49. Although this normally would not faze me I was expected back at the house as the parents were going out for the evening. After several minutes of sheer panic, I composed myself and calmly thought through my options for getting back.
At the fish market where the bus stop is located I asked people where they were heading (at least the ones with children) but people were either sceptical of me, despite being a girl, dressed fairly nicely and clean cut or they were heading in a different direction or simply did not seem to understand. Frustrated I head towards the direction of Santa Cesarea determined to find a taxi or some mode of transportation. After several heat sweltering moments I saw a sign for the number of a taxi. However my cell phone had run out of battery the night before and when I turned it back on I needed a pin code to access the phone; a pin code I did not have. Luckily, a few meters from the taxi sign was a three star hotel. Inside, exasperated, hot and tired I asked the receptionist if she spoke English. This was my first mistake. Her attitude changed as she seemed to turn her nose up at me and sniffed a haughty no. I smiled politely and explained in my deteriorating Italian, if she could call me a taxi. She dismissed my pleading expression and informed me she didn’t have a telephone to call the taxi. At first I thought I had heard incorrectly as this was a hotel so of course there was a telephone. I clarified this information, and she sighed impatiently as her response stayed the same. I rolled my eyes at her arrogance but always the polite Canadian I thanked her graciously.
The road continuing onto Santa Cesarea did not look promising, in terms of finding someone to help me, so I headed back towards town and stumbled upon an inviting bed and breakfast. Unfortunately, the bed and breakfast appeared to be closed but a young woman across the road called out to me. I walked over my face stained with frustration, dejection and fatigue. I told her my story in a mix of Italian and English, my Italian becoming worse as the evening wore on. Thankfully, she responded in perfect English; I don’t think I have ever been so happy to hear my mother tongue before. She happily informed me she would drive me to Santa Cesarea if she had the keys to her brother’s car. As she checked inside of her house a slight smile appeared on my face as my hopes were momentarily lifted. Sadly, they were not quickly dashed as she did not have the keys. I asked her to call a taxi for me, but when she called the taxi company, they informed her, the taxi comes from Lecce and only did trips in Castro after 9 pm. My options to get to Santa Cesarea by 7pm were eliminated. I thanked the woman for her generosity and trudged back to the bus stop.
As I waited at the deserted bus stop, several people stopped and asked me for directions. I leaped at the chance to ask for a ride to Santa Cesarea. But, they either did not understand or were lost themselves. One car seemed promising, a car filled with a mix of guys and girls, they stopped and chatted to me. I waved the pamphlet of Santa Cesarea in their faces like a raving lunatic, in case I mispronounced the name of the town. They laughed cruelly and exclaimed, “Hahahaha, inglese,” before driving off.
Eight o’clock came with no sign of a bus. My panic intensified as the sky was beginning to darken and this was my only option of reaching Santa Cesarea. At 8:15, an unmarked white van stopped at the bus stop. I hesitated as the driver motioned me to open the side door. As a child, children are taught about the dangers of being lured into white vans and kidnapped never to be heard of again or ending up dead in ditches. Cautiously, I kept one foot out the door and was thankful several other people were mulling around the fish market. The driver, an older man, smiled kindly at me and said, “Autobus?” My fear turned into relief as I nodded and shouted “Santa Cesarea?!”
“Sì, sì,” he replied as I slammed the door behind me and stared out the window being consciously aware of my surroundings to look for signs of Santa Cesarea. However, this did not stop me from taking in the breathtaking sunset over the sea with the little boats bobbing contently in the sea. For the first time since the catastrophe started I felt secure.
Unfortunately, this feeling was retracted after I was dropped off at the bus stop. Although, I thought I recognized the homes, they all were similar and everything looked the same. I asked for the centro (centre), and managed to navigate through the winding unmarked roads before arriving in the centre of town. From there I managed tobacktrack back to the house. Exhausted, hot and sweaty but relieved I arrived back at the house just after 9 pm to the concerned but smiling face of my nanny mother whom thankfully was not leaving until later that night.
in barcelona there’s a shop where you can rent out polaroid cameras if you buy the film. so doing that!
into interior design lately. wall stickers!
If you want to eat out in my little town, you have two choices: either the pizzeria or the traditional rustic restaurant called MustaFa. MustaFa serves regional food, like sausages, octopus, fried eggplant, peppers, and zucchini. We sometimes go twice a day when we have our day off and stay for as long as we like or until we’re finish drinking our big glasses of wine.
There’s a few special things about MustaFa. First, you don’t have to go by the menu. If you want to trade in the small side of pizza for shrimp, you can, and there’s no extra charge. Second, I can’t get over the fact that only tourists eat out. We also meet British, French or Belgian people when we’re there. Third, for 4 euros each, you can get an appetizer (mix of olives, cheese, sausage, shrimp, meatballs and fried vegetables) and a pottery mug full of wine.
It helps that the cheery owner, speaking quickly in dialect, greets us over the bar and hands us limoncello (creamy lemon-flavored alcohol) at the end of the meal.
this soundtrack that seems to follow me around montreal in the cafés and bars…
the summer flies.